What does it matter who I am, if from birth
I have been lighted by darkest night?
Magical is the life of dreaming and fantasy:
I am the sprite with the enchanting call,
Emperor of the earth and the seven oceans,
Humble tenant of the humblest plot
Where the trees of good and evil may grow.
(When their fruit hangs down
I let the children scrump them
How happily they go home
Their pockets full of life and future).
Imagination and desires, a new body
Is offered up to the paralytic hands
Of an old man drooling silver and gold:
Monsters and memories, a soft monkfish
Directs violins and winds from mid-ocean
Canoes, caravels, transatlantic cruisers
The goddess cuts through the branches
That kneel to the dead trunk of philosophy.
Xosé Antonio García was born in 1961. He was the son of a miner from Mieres, which is the first big town you hit driving out of Oviedo (Úvieu in Asturianu) on the major highway that curves and climbs through the mountains to León. The mountains rise up on either side of the town. The town stops and the country begins. This is the poet’s world. He is not interested in the fashionable life of the city, nor is he a countryside romantic looking with misty eyes on charming rural scenes.
He first started to publish poetry in the seventies in magazines such as Sapiens or El Cuélebre Literario, edited by Nel Amaro. In the nineties he joined the PCA- the Communist Party of Asturias- during the miners’ disputes and stood for election as a socialist. Mieres has a history of revolutionary ideas that goes back to the pre-war period when the miners declared Asturias an independent country with its own revolutionary communist philosophy.
The failure of revolutionary socialism to fulfil its promises, the destruction of the countryside by the forces of capital that have increasingly led to rural depopulation and disappearing traditions, and personal factors in the poet’s life give him a pessimistic and nihilistic outlook. In 1993 his mother, to whom he bore a striking resemblance, died and he suffered a profound sense of grief. This grief informs the collection Memories of a Dead Man (1995).
Memories of a Dead Man is a short book with only thirty poems. Some of them are very short. The following poem is about the mountain, which is female in Asturianu.
The mountain speaks, it smiles at me
And from time to time it also deceives
-sad heart, sad soul-
I go after her, but can’t posses her;
A path coming down between walnut trees,
Great flat rocks and short grass
Covering the grey burrowed into by time:
Is it going down the mountain or up?
From the gate you can see the last roofs
The mist consumes and you can hear laughs
Surreal voices of cotton and mint
-sad heart, troubled mind-
Until it reaches the roof ridge
And another one higher calls me on
-sad mind, tired mountain.
The combination of his tragic early death in 1997 and the dark and brooding imagery of his poems makes him reminiscent of Sylvia Plath. There is something about his urgent tone arising from a bleak urban environment that also makes me think of Ian Curtis or Morrissey. I don’t know whether he was aware of any of these writers: he was a poet who dedicated himself to the Asturian language and was a major figure in the second generation of what has come to be called the Surdimientu or renaissance of the language.
High, serene, quiet
Eternal on the peaks:
The language of nothing
Speaks like silence
That through fear of death
Calls to nothing more than death.
All poems taken from the edition, Xosé Antonio García Poesía (Trabe: Oviedo, 2010)